Laws about marijuana possession are changing rapidly. States across the country are moving to legalize medical and, in some cases, recreational uses of the drug. But in Florida, state law still prohibits possession, except for medical use, and imposes some surprisingly stiff penalties. Even for possession of 20 grams or less, a conviction may result in a jail sentence up to one year, a fine of up to $1,000 and a revocation of all driving privileges.
The consequences of illegal marijuana possession can fall even harder on college students, due to a federal law providing that a conviction can result in loss of financial aid. How long you remain ineligible for financial aid depends on whether you’ve had prior drug convictions. A first-time conviction results in the loss of eligibility for one year. It is possible to shorten the duration of ineligibility by completing a drug rehabilitation program and by passing unannounced drug tests.
Lawmakers included some exceptions in the law, so as not to make things worse for a student with a potential drug problem who can’t stay in school without financial aid. For one, you must be currently enrolled in school when the arrest occurs. So a student who is arrested in July on summer break won’t lose financial aid eligibility for the fall semester. But an enrolled student arrested in October could lose eligibility for the rest of the school year and beyond.
More recently, lawmakers have been trying to break the link between financial aid and drug convictions. In 2018, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced a bill to help reduce barriers to applying for aid, including removing the drug conviction penalty. So far that bill hasn’t made it out of committee.
In Florida, Key West and some other Keys municipalities have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana among recreational users. Possession of less than 20 grams is treated more like a traffic violation, resulting in a citation and a $100 fine. But state law still takes precedence.
Because of the complexity of Florida and federal drug laws and the harsh penalties that come with them, you should consult an attorney who has successfully handled drug possession cases immediately following your arrest.